Indiana Basketball: Hoosiers searching for more complete effort against North Alabama

Dec 19, 2023; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward Anthony Walker (4) celebrates a
Dec 19, 2023; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward Anthony Walker (4) celebrates a / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana Basketball will take on the North Alabama Lions on Thursday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. 

The Hoosiers are coming off a scare against the Morehead State Eagles, in which they narrowly emerged victorious by a score of 69-68. It was an uninspiring effort for Indiana, playing with little energy and passion after such a strong effort against the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks. The Hoosiers were down by a score of 61-46 with under 10 minutes left, and it was beginning to look like a resume-crushing loss could be on the horizon. However, Mike Woodson’s squad finally increased their intensity on both ends of the court and ended the game on a 23-7 run to escape with the win. The player of the game for the Hoosiers was senior Anthony Walker, who scored a season-high 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds off the bench in 23 minutes.

Thursday night’s matchup will be the third all-time between Indiana and North Alabama. The teams went to battle in 2019 and 2020, with the Hoosiers winning both games decisively by scores of 91-65 and 87-52, respectively. The Lions come out of the Atlantic Sun conference and have started the season with a 6-6 record. They have only one win against a top-200 team in KenPom—a 61-59 victory against No. 196 Jacksonville State. On December 2nd, North Alabama came up just short against the 8-3 Kansas State Wildcats, losing in overtime by a score of 75-74. The Lions lost to the Hoosiers’ most recent opponent, Morehead State, on December 10th by a score of 86-77. 

North Alabama is currently ranked 224th in KenPom, with the Hoosiers checking in at 87th. The Lions are just 1-5 on the road this season, with a 12-point win against Charleston Southern. They are a quality shooting team from both the free-throw line and behind the arc. The Lions are shooting 75.6% from the charity stripe this season, which ranks 39th in the entire nation. They hit a solid 36.2% of their shots from behind the three-point line, the second-best in the ASUN conference and 76th in the country. 

North Alabama head coach Tony Pujol plays a deep rotation, with 11 of his players averaging over 10 minutes per game. The Lions are led by their dynamic duo of guards, KJ Johnson and Jacari Lane. Johnson is a 6’3” senior who averages 13.9 points in just 22.9 minutes per game. He shoots 48.8% from the field, 38.1% from three, and 76.5% from the line. Lane is a 6’0” sophomore who scores 13.4 points and plays an average of 27.1 minutes. He averages 45.0% on field goals, 36.8% from behind the arc, and 83.6% from the stripe. North Alabama also has a productive duo of senior forwards, Tim Smith Jr. and Damian Forrest, who both average over nine points a game. 

After a near-tragic loss to Morehead State on Tuesday night, Mike Woodson and his squad know they can’t overlook any opponent they face. 

“You can be beaten by any team, doesn’t matter who they are, if you don’t come to play,” Woodson said in his post-game interview.

Indiana will look to put together a much more complete effort against North Alabama on Thursday night. With the absence of students in attendance, the Hoosiers will need to create their own energy and look for a quick start to set the tone against the Lions. Indiana turned it around just in the nick of time on Tuesday night, but a similar lackluster performance could greet the Hoosiers with an inexcusable loss that will follow them to Selection Sunday.